How does rehab help with movement disorders?
Movement disorders, including conditions like Parkinson’s disease, ataxia, Huntington’s disease and many others, are progressive neurological diseases that can impact the brain’s control of muscle movements throughout the body.
Speech pathologist Mallory Moore explained the signs and symptoms of movement disorders and how to use exercise to minimize symptoms and increase flexibility and strength.
What are the most common symptoms of movement disorders?
“The signs and symptoms of movement disorders are very individual,” said Moore. “They vary from patient to patient and disorder to disorder. Two individuals with Parkinson’s disease may present very different symptoms.”
Signs and symptoms of a movement disorder can include:
- Changes to or difficulty swallowing
- Changes to voice or speech
- Hand tremors
- Difficulty with small muscle movements, such as writing or buttoning a shirt
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of balance
- Increased falls
Some people may find themselves struggling with multiple symptoms, while others may notice only one or two.
Can rehab help to keep my movement disorder from getting worse?
“For many movement disorders, research shows that participating early and often in a rehab program helps those with movement disorders to maintain greater function for longer periods of time,” said Moore. “Even better, research shows rehab is neuroprotective for those with movement disorders, meaning it can even help prevent further changes to the brain from occurring for some time.”
Rehab for movement disorders involves an occupational therapist (or OT), a physical therapist (PT) and a speech language pathologist (SLP or ST), each specially trained to evaluate and treat someone with a neurological movement disorder. Each will have specific expertise they bring to the table when it comes to helping the patient optimize muscle performance and minimize symptoms.
- Occupational therapist: An occupational therapist is trained to improve and maintain your ability to continue with the activities of daily living, like grooming, going to the bathroom, dressing, cooking and other home management tasks.
- Physical therapist: A physical therapist will address walking and balance to improve and maintain your mobility.
- Speech language pathologist: The speech language pathologist performs what is often called “a checkup from the neck up,” addressing changes in speech, swallowing, word finding and looking into potential cognitive changes like shifts in attention span, memory and planning abilities.
The care team focuses on putting together a well-rounded, personalized plan that is designed to work with your specific disorder and severity to provide targeted assistance and help minimize current symptoms.
Is there anything I can do at home to help with a movement disorder?
“The single most important thing anyone with a movement disorder can do is to stay as active as possible, as safely as possible, for as long as possible,” said Moore.
With movement disorders, the best way to maintain physical, communication, swallowing and cognitive function is to continue utilizing all the skills you still have while the changes to the brain are occurring.
If you are used to taking a walk each night after dinner, don’t spend it sitting on the couch instead! Make adaptations to your current lifestyle for the sake of safety – perhaps exercising within the safety of your own home – but continue to stay active as long as you can.
How can I exercise safely with a movement disorder?
“It’s hard to say exactly what changes anyone should make, since the effects of movement disorders can be so individual and different from person to person,” said Moore. “The best way to determine the most effective and safest exercises and activities is to speak to your provider or care team, so you can discuss it with your OT, PT and ST.”
Your care team will perform an assessment of your current abilities and symptom progression and will be able to create personalized exercise recommendations that address your individual goals and areas of improvement.
Since needs and abilities vary from person to person, both before and after the symptoms set in, there isn’t any one exercise that covers everyone. Plan your time exercising to whichever time of day you are most comfortable being active while maintaining a consistent schedule.
“I do recommend being careful not to do any strenuous exercise within two hours of heading to bed,” said Moore. “That way, your exercise routine won’t affect your ability to rest. If your symptoms are worsening and your current routine becomes uncomfortable, painful or so difficult you stop exercising consistently, speak with your care team again to ask for advice or a new plan.”
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